REVIEW by Robert Liebowitz:
“He could lie to anyone…except himself”, brags the narrator in the wonderful movie “The Usual Suspects”, and while it’s not exactly landing on the moon or The Second Coming, it’s an accurate depiction of the human psyche. Everyone–everyone–has at some point in their lives lied. Sometimes they’ve brought so much joy to the distributor, that once (or twice or a gazillion times) is not quite enough. The Culture Of Lies has blossomed so much over the last few decades, the pundits, the Lexicon-Makers, have delineated the degrees of lies–1)Error Of Omission; 2)White Lie; 3) Regular ol’ bald face lie.
Jennifer Darling (played for the most part with nuance and passion by Elizabeth Belonzi) has created a fourth category, rarely seen–4)A Whopper. This final choice is rarely seen because it most cases they are life-altering…and yet, instances of them make for compelling art, or in this case, an interesting evening of theater.
Rather than taking her good old fashioned B.A. and going out into the world to make a living, Ms.Darling (a wonderfully ironic name), has jumped into the deep end of the pool, and has claimed all sorts of degrees and accomplishments, going wayyyyy beyond the pale–so much so that her achievements have placed her in the upper bastions of society, complete with affluent Park Avenue office and practice, and–drawing in the biggest fish in the pond–attracting the wealthy Sheldon Cooper (played earnestly by William McAndrews) Cupid fires away and lands, a wedding date is set, and the wheels of wealth, status and privilege are set in motion, all wrapped up in a neat red bow. On this level of wealth, though, the red bow has a name–it’s called the ‘Vows’ section in the Sunday New York Times.
Based on a true story, playwrights Jane Beale and Ronnie Cohen have imagined what happens to Ms. Darling once her fib is exposed…or have they? It is to the writer’s credit that they have chosen a very compelling event with many important implications, and to attempt to make a dramatic statement. Unfortunately, one of the play’s shortcomings is that it is never quite clear where the fact ends, and where the fiction ends. Either choice–a basic dramatization of the known facts, or a completely different imagining of said events–would’ve been sufficient. Those choices, however, were muddled by a strange unsurety that hovered over the stage during the entire performance.
The play begins in a way this humble scribe has never experienced–after the usual words of warning are given to the audience about various phones and the wrappings of a Snickers bar, this ‘technical director’ (Lauren Brickman)–not really sure what to call her–suddenly becomes a character in the play, and then just as suddenly breaks the fourth wall completely by talking about backstage machinations regarding the show’s budget. This was a poor choice, and got the play off on the wrong foot.
It got worse–the first twenty minutes of the play are inhabited by two detestable characters–a peacockish Ms. Darling is going over wedding plans with a Wedding Planner From Hell. Rooting interest is non-existent, always a problem for any artistic endeavor, play or otherwise. (The Narrator is kind of shallow and vapid as well)
Finally, the denouement occurs, and the middle section of the play is compelling theater–the Times has printed a ‘correction’ (hence the title), and Mr Cooper has found out about it, frothing at his kneecaps. The problem here is that this unraveling should’ve taken place near the end of the play–where denouements generally reside. However, there’s another hour of the play. Clearly, the services of a dramaturg were needed.
The play proceeds to travel in several directions at once–towards prison, where Ms. Darling made her subsequent home, and a back story with Mr. Cooper and her ‘companion’ (or whatever she was, Bunny Herman (played with texture and nuance by Rebecca Smith.) This ‘added’ hour wasn’t horrible, by any means; some of it was funny and entertaining. But it clearly was the basis for another play, not the one the writers set out to write–namely, the rise, fall, and redemption of Ms. Darling.
The rest of the cast did fine in all supporting roles; particular praise goes to Jasmine Webb, for her expert portrayal of Helen Sheilds, a fellow inmate at prison who Ms Darling befriends. On the technical end, a few missteps occurred–where oh where was the doctor’s engagement ring? Why is Dr Darling’s diary, which she has been keeping for a while, blank? Why, in a restaurant scene, are the pair poring over a wine list, and then in the next moment, they’re getting up to leave, as if they’ve eaten an entire meal? Elemental gaffes, especially in a small theatre, where everyone sees everything, must must must be addressed in a professional, competent way. Yet, for the most part, the scene changes went off without a hitch, and were actually part of the action, which was a pleasant surprise.
“Correction” is a very good idea for a play, based on an actual event where we can draw much from. The playwrights now must set out to put the blinkers on and write only that one play, with laser beam precision.
Robert Liebowitz is a published and produced playwright. His credits include premieres at The fringe, MITF, and LoveCreek. His play, Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, enjoyed an impressive run off-Broadway.